(Image via Focused Ultrasound Foundation)
Inside your head, there’s something called the blood-brain barrier—a natural defense system that keeps germs in your bloodstream from entering your brain. While it’s great when it comes to preventing bacterial infections, the barrier makes treating some brain diseases impossible, since it prevents drugs from reaching the infected area. But that could soon change.
Canadian scientists have penetrated the barrier for the first time in order to treat a branching brain tumor, known as a glioma, which is incredibly difficult to remove surgically in its entirety, reports the Daily Beast.
First, a team at Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital inserted a chemotherapy drug into 56-year-old patient Bonny Hall’s blood. Then, they used pulses of ultrasound—frequencies too high to be heard by the human ear—to manipulate microscopic air bubbles delivered into the bloodstream.
When the bubbles in the brain were hit with pulses of ultrasound, they vibrated, creating small openings in the blood-brain barrier, allowing the drug to reach the tumor, per the BBC. Researchers say the procedure is both non-invasive and reversible since the barrier openings close within hours, while the air bubbles disappear quickly through the lungs, reports the Globe and Mail.
After 24 hours, doctors removed portions of Hall’s tumor and confirmed it had been hit with the drugs, though they’ll now study the tumor more closely. A doctor notes the procedure—which will be tested in nine other patients scheduled for traditional neurosurgery—could “revolutionize” brain medicine, including treatments for other diseases, like Alzheimer’s. “I really do hope this will work for them some day,” Hall said before the operation. (Elsewhere, scientists have answered an old question about brain size.)
By Arden Dier